The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)

15Sep10

Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne), Heath Ledger (The Joker), Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent), Michael Caine (Alfred), Gary Oldman (Gordon), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), Cillian Murphy (Jonathan Crane), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Rachel). Screenplay by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Rating: 12A. Running time: 152 minutes.

A cinema-screen film if you’ve ever seen one, the second of Nolan’s Batman blockbusters is about as grandiose as films get. Gotham city is actually Chicago, and no choice of city would have been more apt for filming this masterpiece in. The buildings are far enough apart and the streets so spacious that it allows for elaborate action scenes a more clustered city like Manhattan would never let you film, and the cinematography here is precisely what elevates The Dark Knight and makes it feel so special. Tracking shots are abound, and the camera glides alongside Batman’s motorbike as effortlessly as the Joker runs rings around the police force. We swerve as he serves, always only metres behind him and seeing everything from the most stunning of perspectives. Watching him dive off skyscrapers and into the night’s sky, that black cape broad and resilient against the wind, is a sight like no other.

Played excellently by Christian Bale, Batman is only half the story. The rest is all about the Joker and Heath Ledger. How the Academy considered it a supporting role I’m not quite sure, but he’s truly terrific here, making his villainous activities look so casual and his care for humanity so convincingly and brutally the polar opposite of Batman’s (non-existent, not overpowering). That’s right; the battle here is one between the staunch moralist and the seemingly self-proclaimed Ubermensch; Kant versus Nietzsche; Good versus… nothing.

Quite appropriately, The Dark Knight follows suit and gives us a healthy amount of dilemmas for Batman, as the Joker tests his values and pushes them to the limit. If that wasn’t enough moralising, there’s a situation the likes of Kurosawa would be proud of Nolan for exhibiting here: the Joker sets up two ferries, each with a bomb to blow the other up. The one to do so first gets to live; if neither do, both explode anyway. Great fun.

The combination, then, of a dense plot driven by these kinds of scenarios, alongside some pretty stunning filming, acting, and action sequences, produces something that’s nothing short of irresistible. I’m starting to think Nolan couldn’t make a bad film if he tried. The Dark Knight isn’t as inspired and original as this summer’s Inception, but it’s easily just as watchable. And if anything, it probably even looks better too.

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